Get a Workout at Your Desk

| Posted On Apr 09, 2018 | By:

desk workout squatIf you sit at a desk all day for work, you may be all too familiar with how you feel when you (finally) stand up. A stiff neck, stiff joints, leg muscles that need a good stretch, even aching back muscles – your entire musculoskeletal system can be impacted by too much sitting.

The fact is that the body likes to move, and any prolonged static positions – like sitting in front of your computer for long periods of time – are not good for keeping the muscles limber and loose.

There are lots of ways you can keep up your activity right at your desk. I often recommend this for my patients who have low back or neck pain, because a static body position can aggravate these problems. But doing some stretches and exercises at your desk is good for everyone – a proactive way to stay healthy rather a reactive approach to deal with a more chronic issue or injury. In fact, researchers at Duke University found that one hour of daily exercise was key to good health, but they also reported that exercise done in short bursts of time accumulated to have the same benefit as an equal amount of continuous exercise time. Therefore, even when you can’t make it to the gym, work out at your desk and feel good about it!

At the end of this blog, I’ve listed several exercises that you can try at your desk, but first, here are some exercise guidelines as well as a few other helpful tips:

  1. As with any new exercise routine, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor to confirm the activity is appropriate for you.
  2. If at any time an exercise causes you pain, stop the exercise. Muscular soreness or “burn” is normal and expected while doing these exercises. During the stretches, you should feel a moderate and comfortable stretch
  3. If you can fit it into your routine (and I know it’s hard to interrupt working on a project when you’re “in the zone”), it’s ideal to exercise for 2-3 minutes every 25-30 minutes. If you need to stretch that time out to every hour, then do about 5 minutes at a time.
  4. Pick 1 or 2 exercises to do at one time, and vary what you do throughout the day so you are stretching and working your entire body: legs, arms, neck, shoulders and back/core.
  5. Be aware of your desk ergonomics, as poor ergonomics can detract from the positive impact an exercise routine may have. If your company offers ergonomic evaluations, take advantage of that service to get your desk set up properly for you.
  6. Getting a standing desk can be a great idea, but remember to switch between sitting and standing. Prolonged static positions, sitting or standing, are not as good for the body as movement is.
  7. We still recommend a goal of 10,000 steps each day. To accomplish this, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park in the farthest spot to fit in more steps, get off the T a stop or 2 earlier, or walk all the way around your office floor every hour.

Strengthening Exercises

Sit to stands

Desk or wall pushups

Wall sits

Long arc quad

Heel raises or single leg heel raises

plank positionPlanks

Scapular (shoulder blade) retractions



childs poseChild’s Pose

Stretching: hold each for a cumulative of 2-3min

Half kneeling hip flexor stretch

Hamstring stretch

Standing knee to chest

Quadriceps stretch

Neck and upper back stretches like the ones my colleague, Scott McDonough, demonstrated in this blog.

Gastroc stretch

Wrist extensor muscle stretch (and other stretches that can help to avoid or lessen Carpal Tunnel Syndrome)

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About Susan Lau, PT

Susan joined Atrius Health in 2017 and provides physical therapy services to our patients at the Harvard Vanguard Kenmore practice. Susan attended UMass - Amherst for her undergraduate education and then Boston University to earn her graduate degree in physical therapy. Her clinical interests are general orthopedics, return to sports, and balance and fall prevention, with an emphasis on health and wellness. In her spare time she enjoys playing basketball, watching sports (Go Celtics and Patriots!), reading, hiking, and participating in outdoor activities.